Colorado Avalanche’ F Peter Forsberg’s latest and last attempted NHL comeback has come to an end. The former MVP lasted just 35:10 over the span of two games, where he went pointless with a -4 rating and 4 penalty minutes, though he did play better than his numbers indicate. It’s a sad way to end off what was an outstanding 13-year NHL career, and one that closes off yet another failed attempt to kick his Hall of Fame-calibre career back into gear.
“After this past weekend I came to the sad conclusion that I was going to have to retire. It was not an easy decision. Believe me, the process I went through was even tougher. Throughout my career I had 25 surgeries and I promised my fiancée Nicole that I would not put my health at risk anymore.”
What’s outright depressing is that both games he played were on the road, and had he continued just one game longer, he’d have played his first home game in Colorado since 2007-08. The ovation and applause from the Avalanche faithful would have been unparalleled.
Forsberg will finish his career with 249 goals and 885 points in just 708 career games. Foppa, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, had previously said that this latest comeback attempt would be his “final test” as to whether or not he’d continue playing professional hockey or not. Unfortunately, like so many great careers before him, injuries prematurely pushed his talents aside. A nagging right foot/ankle problem put a halt to Forsberg’s career. The surgery was going to correct deformities because of an abnormal arch that caused him to stretch his ankle tendons, but the problem never really rectified itself, and to this day, the 37-year-old continues to suffer discomfort in the ankle.
“He surprised me. I didn’t think he’d look as good as he did. Not that he’s not a good hockey player, but that I’ve heard so much about his foot injuries and how much it’s hampered his skating, and his skating looked great…Nobody should be disappointed in him or upset. He gave it a good try. It’s sad that a great career like that is over. But at the same time, what a career it was. He did a lot for a lot of people, including myself,” said Matt Duchene.
A previous comeback attempt in 2007-08 saw Forsberg record a goal and 14 points in just 9 games with a +7 rating. His right foot began giving him problems over the next few years, and he ended up going back to his native Sweden after appearing in nine regular-season games and seven post-season games in 2007-08. Forsberg played for his hometown club MoDo for the past few seasons, and his foot held up enough that he decided to give the NHL another shot.
Upon signing his 1-year/$1M contract just a few days ago, Forsberg said,
“I don’t know how good I’m going to be. I don’t know how it’s going to go, I’m going to say that right now. But I like to play and I want to play. I’ve been feeling pretty good, and I want to see if I’m good enough.”
The 1995 Calder Trophy winner was arguably the best two-way player in the NHL during his prime, leading the Avalanche to Stanley Cup championships in 1996 and 2001 (where he didn’t play in the final two rounds because he had his spleen removed), and earned both the Hart Trophy and Art Ross Trophy in 2003. Forsberg missed the 2001-02 season to recover from the surgery, but returned for the ’02 playoffs, went to the Western Conference final and came back in ’02-03 with his most outstanding season to date, where he recorded 29 goals, 106 points and a +52 rating.
“He probably wasn’t at his best. You can still see how he sees the game. He’s seeing things that not a lot of other guys see. There’s no doubt that he’s a special player. Any time he can be on the ice and contribute, he’s one hell of a player,” said Niklas Kronwall.
Forsberg currently sits as the 4th-highest all-time Swedish point-scorer in NHL history, with 885 points in just 706 games, good for a ridiculous 1.25 PPG clip. He sits behind only Mats Sundin, Nicklas Lidstrom and Daniel Alfredsson. He’s also in the top-10 in all-time points per game, averaging 1.254 in his career. Forsberg is ranked 4th all-time in assists per game with 0.901, behind NHL legends Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr.
In the 1993 World Junior Championships, Forsberg set an all time tournament record with 31 points in only 7 games–4.43 PPG. He ranks 1st in career points among tournament scorers with 42 points (10 goals and 32 assists). With his second Olympic Gold in 2006, he became just the 3rd player in history to have enough titles to be a member of the Triple Gold Club twice, with the others being Viacheslav Fetisov and Igor Larionov.
“He was one of those tough Europeans that wouldn’t let anything get to him,” Stastny explained. “He would stand up for himself. That’s what I’ll remember about him, and how skilled he was and how dominant he was for the 10 or 11 full years he played,” said teammate Paul Stastny.
“I think as a forward he’s the greatest European who ever played in the NHL. It was so sad a player like him have to suffer so much pain through the game. It’s sad for everybody to see him just to suffer so many injuries,” said Predators’ F Martin Erat.
“The type of guy he is, if he knows he can’t play at what he’s capable of, I don’t think he wants to go out there and force an issue. He made a good comeback. … To give it a shot and try to come back speaks volumes of his character,” said teammate Paul Stastny.
As much as I hate to say it, it’s probably a smart move for Forsberg to hang up the skates. He was immediately thrust into the Avs’ starting lineup with Matt Duchene and Milan Hejduk, and if his stats were to continue on their pace, continuing to eat first-line minutes wouldn’t be helping the team in the standings, nor aiding the development of their young players. In all likelihood, forcing himself to continue playing simply would’ve seen his plus-minus rating slip further and his penalty minutes increase, all while struggling to get on the scoresheet because his foot wasn’t 100% back to normal. Rather than taking the selfish road, Foppa decided it was time to call it a career and remove himself from a young, rebuilding Avalanche team before people began taking shots at him and calling him hockey’s version of Brett Favre.
Which, of course, isn’t the case at all. There’s a big difference between wanting to be in the spotlight and wanting to play the game you love, despite your body begging you otherwise. Favre and Forsberg are not from the same tree. Forsberg is more like Lemieux and Orr–two astounding talents, already among the greatest of all-time, that could’ve been so much more had they not constantly been hurt.
“I’m surprised because of the way he played. I thought he played really good. But I don’t know how his foot feels. He can only tell us that. Obviously, he thinks after the two games he’s not going to be able to help us moving forward. As far as me selfishly, I want to say, ‘Yeah, you can help us. I saw the way you played.’ But if his foot is that bad and hurting him, that’s a problem I can’t fix or he probably can’t fix. That’s got to be frustrating for him,” said long-time teammate Adam Foote.
Forsberg is among the best pure talent players I have ever seen lace skates. He was passionate about the game, and wisely, decided to pull himself from competition when his level of play didn’t meet his level of high standards. His two-game return brought back some great memories of what Forsberg has accomplished over the years, and makes you think where he’d be, at least statistically, had he been fortunate enough to play full seasons for the majority of his career. So many times in the past, Forsberg was supposed to be at the end of his playing days, but at the last minute, we’d see, again and again, the flashes of brilliance and his remarkable play-making ability and vision that made him one of the greatest of all-time.
For those of you not buying my argument, consider this: Forsberg ranks 10th all-time in points per game (1.254), but only 100th in points (885). The sky–literally–was the limit to Forsberg’s potential.
“He’s going to go down as one of the best players to ever play the game. That’s the legacy, how he will go down in the books,” said Milan Hejduk.